In Defense of Gaga
One writer makes a case why she's the greatest pop star on the planet
Published: June 8, 2011
"I just can't get over the fact that so many intelligent people don't get the Gaga."
My friend Hudson Marquez, the great artist, sociopolitical provocateur, TV producer (Dylan's Hard Rain), and co-creator of the famous Cadillac Ranch art project (which inspired a Bruce Springsteen song), posted those words on my Facebook page a few weeks ago during a heated discussion over this Liam Gallagher quote: "She's great! Seriously, man, we like her. She's the only one out there who's got balls. She can play instruments. She can sing. She can dance. She's weird. She's shocking people. I like the Gaga, man." This is the same Liam Gallagher, mind you, who has almost never had a kind word to say about any of his contemporaries, once referring to Jack White as looking "like Zorro on doughnuts" and even wishing AIDS on Britpop competitors Blur. Didn't matter. The haters came up with all kinds of excuses for this praise. Liam had to have been joking. Or, better yet, Oasis always sucked anyway.
It's been both entertaining and rather curious to observe so many grown adults, some of them who should know better, get so bent out of shape over Lady Gaga's monumental success. And they get so angry that some of us seriously believe we do "get it" when it comes to the Gaga ... and actually like it. One rock critic went so far as to suggest that she is the very worst thing in all of modern culture ... which is absolutely ridiculous in a culture that's given us both the Kardashians and Donald Trump. I saw another critic admit that he reviewed the new album for a major newspaper after only listening to it once because that's all the music merited. Some observers believe this almost insane and certainly intense level of hate is because Gaga's a powerful woman ... except there seem to be as many females as men doing the hating. She is unquestionably the most divisive cultural icon to come along in decades. She must be doing something right.
In the eyes of those haters, however, the gal can't do anything right. First, the complaint was she was just "exploiting" her huge gay following with the release of her "Born This Way" anthem, using them as "props" in a money-grubbing quest. Then, the very next day, she was attacked by those same haters for canceling an exclusive promotional deal for the Born This Way album with Target stores after it came to light that the corporation had made donations to anti-gay political groups. She was, in effect, showing solidarity with those same "exploited" fans. But, no. The complaint now was she "shouldn't have made the deal with the devil in the first place."
Bruce Springsteen, working-class hero among working-class heroes, made a huge mistake and ended up with egg on his face two years ago when he did a Super Bowl tie-in with Wal-Mart. Next to Target — still one of America's top philanthropic companies, all politics aside — Wal-Mart looks like the evil empire. Yet AC/DC, Don Henley, Garth Brooks, even the Elvis Presley estate have done deals with that particular devil. The Boss apologized to his fans the week after his special edition album was already in the stores. Yet, when Gaga pulled her LP months before the album was even released, surely putting her money where her mouth is and even alerting many of us to the fact that Target isn't the right-on corporation some of us may have thought ... no, it was, at best, a publicity stunt! But then, they weren't even willing to give Gaga kudos when she went after those hateful Westboro Baptist Nazis!
Even when the new album was sold on Amazon.com for 99 cents on its first day of release, the haters screamed that it was just to "up" the SoundScan sales figures — it was "desperation," don't you know? — because the music isn't "even worth a buck." Um, Born This Way was already No. 1 on iTunes in more than 20 countries before Amazon even announced its one-day deal (which turned into a two-day deal when the demand kept crashing Amazon's server the first day). Did any of those half-empty-glassers consider that, just maybe, she was happy all her fans were able to afford the disc? Maybe that's not cynical enough. Nevertheless, even before the album's release, Forbes magazine had placed her at the top of its annual list of most powerful entertainment figures, knocking Oprah to second place. She has more followers on Twitter than President Obama. This is obviously not someone who has to "up" her numbers any higher than they already are.
Her cross-section of fandom is already awe-inspiring. Not just Elton John and Alice Cooper and Springsteen and all five of those gals on The View — but, interestingly, lots of old punk rockers. In fact, it was Detroit's Bootsey X who suggested to me, more than a year ago, that Lady Gaga is actually the most interesting thing happening in mainstream — and that distinction is very important — pop culture. Soon after, I saw a video of her covering Leiber & Stoller's "Stand by Me," basically the John Lennon arrangement, in concert, and then Gershwin's "Someone to Watch over Me" on The Today Show — songs that I can't imagine any other modern teen pop queen, or even Madonna, attempting — and I was hooked. I've seen Hugo Burnham, founding drummer of Gang of Four and now a college professor, defending her on Facebook ("Most of you hated ABBA and Chic, too, when we were dancing like crazy to them. In the 1970s.") Ditto L.A. punk icon Chris D of the Flesh Eaters, who was both passionate and adamant in his posts. Charles Shaar Murray, the great British rock critic, "liked" one of my Gaga FB defenses ...
> Email Bill Holdship